Which Seven Recent Baseball Hall of Famers Did Not Take Steroids in Front of Thomas Boswell?

While I was busy ignoring the “Tenth Inning” of Ken Burns’ re-released and expanded Baseball docu-series—I never saw innings one through nine, and I didn’t want to lose the no-hitter—Washington Post talking head and sometime columnist Thomas Boswell was giving the Internet something to get excited about. As transcribed via Wezen-Ball :

There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said “What’s that?” and he said “it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake”. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year.

So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.

It’s not too clear what the incident signifies now, or what it signified then. Boswell’s position on steroids has been wildly incoherent and hypocritical—rumer-mongering about Jose Canseco in the late ‘80s, whitewashing Mark McGwire in the late ‘90s, denouncing Barry Bonds, deploring the “witch hunt” for Alex Rodriguez . But the question of who the incident signifies is considerably less wide-ranging.

One of the many ways that baseball has changed between Boswell’s prime and today is that the sport’s history has become almost endlessly checkable . If an old-timer says Whitey Ford hit him with a pitch once, and so the next time up he hit a two-run triple off Ford and kneed Clete Boyer in the balls while sliding into third, it is possible to look it up and determine that nobody ever had a two-run triple and a hit-by-pitch against the Yankees while Ford and Boyer were both on the team.

If Boswell was being a storyteller in that freewheeling old baseball mode, it didn’t work out. His coy-sounding vague description was in fact a specific set of criteria: Boswell was claiming to have witnessed steroid use by a player who 1. is now in the Hall of Fame and 2. had a career-high home run season after Jose Canseco had become famous. So at most, eight players fit the bill .

This is how you call off a witch hunt? Most of the eight are folk heroes, nationally or in the cities where they played. Two of them broke major records, though not for home runs. One of the eight used his Hall of Fame speech to denounce muscle-bound sluggers who don’t do things “the natural way.”

And now, thanks to Thomas Boswell’s gesture at knowingness, all eight of them are official steroids suspects. If Ken Burns were a real historian, he should have asked a few follow-up questions. If Boswell wants to be a real sports reporter anymore, he should answer them.